the ‘M’ in M&Co

It started with a paperweight.

Nearly every summer of my childhood, I flew from Connecticut to visit my father (an attorney) who lived in Honolulu. I had my eye on a paperweight that he kept at home. It looked like trash, a discarded sheet of yellow lined legal paper destined for the garbage. I wanted this paperweight even though I had no legal aspirations and it’s doubtful that I had ever even scribbled on an 8.5 x 14″ page. I certainly wasn’t churning out anything special in middle school, but I still grasped the small pleasure that comes with *physically* discarding a bad idea. These days, just try getting that same satisfaction when you delete a file into the ‘recycle bin’ on your computer desktop!

My dad passed away my freshman year of high school and no one claimed (or threw out) the crumpled mass. An only child, I quietly claimed this memento as my own.

Who would design such a paperweight? I never bothered to investigate. This pre-dated the days of Googling every question that pops into your head. I had never even heard of the New York design firm, M&Co.  My introduction came after college, when I bought a hardcover copy of Tibor Kalman: The Perverse Optimist. As I poured over the pages, there was the story behind the paperweight.

And it had friends!

Inside that hardcover retrospective, I also took a special shining to the whimsical drawings and paintings of Maira (the M in M&Co) Kalman. Over the years, she’s stayed on my radar. I bought What Pete Ate for a friend’s son. I stumbled across The Pursuit of Happiness blog on the New York Times. I purchased the hardcover of The Elements of Style (for the illustrations) and when we bought our new house, I proudly shelved it in our downstairs bathroom. Bonus points for you, if you visit and happen to notice it.

Last week I finally crossed paths with this fast-talking artist, who really can find inspiration in just about anywhere. In May, she’ll be moonlighting as a maid in an Irish castle.  After a Westport Library/Write Yourself Free talk with her partner-in-crime Rick Meyerowitz, Ms Kalman graciously signed my copy of The Elements of Style.  The first thing she did was inspect the book’s spine to make white typeface was printed properly.  I immediately panicked, but was assured not to worry. My copy came off-press just fine.

Rick Meyerowitz’s work was mostly new to me. I’m a bit too young to remember National Lampoon the first time around, but his new retrospective Drunk, Stoned, Brilliant, Dead has also been purchased, signed and has quickly topped the backlog stack of New Yorker magazines on my reading list. I would love to sit down to dinner with these two. They have a sharp eye for both the absurd and the beautiful in life. Plus, they love to photograph food!

End note: I’m sure many of you are thinking, why doesn’t she read the damn Elements book and learn a thing or two from Strunk and White? Like Ms. Kalman, I appreciate wit and wisdom of The Elements of Style, but I’m a designer, not a writer. I find grammatical guidance difficult to absorb or heed.
Recently, I posted a link to Dine with Design, a June 11, 2011 event that features food from Harvest to Heat chefs and artisans at Philip Johnson’s Glass House. The sole Facebook comment came from my friend Burke, who noted, “People who dine in glass houses shouldn’t throw cherry stones.” I thought this quip was the perfect match for a Maira Kalman illustration. But of course she’s already been to New Canaan and I’d know that if I had bothered to read about restrictive clauses.

image via nytimes

If you’ve never seen Maira Kalman in action, you can watch her TEDtalk video below.

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  1. When I sat down to recap the Kalman/Meyerowitz talk, this post took on a life of its own. I guess it’s been about 20 years in the making.

    Seeing the way Maira Kalman views the world reminds me to stay open-minded. Creative inspiration is everywhere, you simply need to be open to the possibilities.

  2. This is one of those posts that I will need to revisit in order to explore every nook and cranny of it.

    Re: Kalman. I find her (and Meyerowitz) to possess an energy and spirit astounding in their ability to capture as you say, the “absurd and beautiful.” The fact that she took something as seemingly dowdy as the Elements of Style and roused it into its full humorous potential, will be her lasting legacy.

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